Misti Norris is on the way out at Small Brewpub. (2015 File Photo/Allison Slomowitz) 

Misti Norris is on the way out at Small Brewpub. (2015 File Photo/Allison Slomowitz) 

UPDATED September 11, 2016

If you wanted to taste Misti Norris' cooking — maybe a spin on the Indian dish sukka, made with alligator instead of chicken and served with rings of pickled leeks, kale chutney, fried kale leaves and floppy dosa pancakes — you had to head to a shaggy, up-and-coming stretch of Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff and grab a seat at a communal picnic table at Small Brewpub

You can still do that, but you'll have to hurry: She is leaving her post. "The ownership here has decided to go in a different direction," she explained in a phone interview. In the past week, the brewpub's menu has  been radically shortened; it now consists of mostly sausages and other charcuterie, cheese or pickle boards and just a few actual dishes. "More what they consider approachable for the neighborhood," she says. In other words, stuff to eat while you're drinking beer. 

Misti Norris' koji-rubbed quail with cucumber two ways, quail egg, bak kwa and ham dashi

Misti Norris' koji-rubbed quail with cucumber two ways, quail egg, bak kwa and ham dashi

Andy Jacobsohn/Staff Photographer

It has hardly seemed possible that a chef with so much talent has been crafting her plates, as delicious as they are daring, at such a rustic spot. When it opened in late 2014, Small didn't even offer table service: You  had to order at the bar and someone (usually a bartender or one of the owners) would bring it to your table. Lately, though, it had blossomed into something that felt more like a restaurant, with table service and a nicely rounded — if seriously quirky — menu to match. 

"We felt like we were doing something that Dallas didn't have," says co-owner and head brewer Aaron Garcia. 

I was taken with Norris' cooking from the start; after tasting her "goatwurst," and pig trotters, and crispy chicken feet with collard greens, sweet potato hush puppies and shaved ham, it didn't surprise me to learn her previous position was as sous-chef at FT33. Though it was a little uneven — not surprising, as it was so audacious — it earned an enthusiastic three-star review and a spot among The Best in DFW new restaurants of 2015

Norris' smoked Tassione Farms carrots with Kamut wheat, charred greens, San Saba pecan puree and IPA mustard

Norris' smoked Tassione Farms carrots with Kamut wheat, charred greens, San Saba pecan puree and IPA mustard

Andy Jacobsohn/Staff Photographer

Over the past year, her cooking has evolved;  lately it has been some of the most inventive, thoughtful, interesting and — above all — delicious in town. In fact, a review was in the works: Three stars no longer felt right. Alas, the review is not to be.

"We went into it a little naively, and we've learned a lot," says Garcia of the original vision for Small Brewpub. He explains that he and his co-owners approached Norris several months ago and told her they needed to make a change that would boost their bottom line. "Ultimately we saw that Misti wanted to keep pushing forward; she wanted to keep the vision going. We weren't sure Small Brewpub was right for that." Norris' decision to leave was her own.

Her announcement comes, unfortunately, the day after I included Small Brewpub on a list of my 12 favorite Dallas restaurants. Though I love the brewpub itself — and love the beers — for me, Norris' cooking was a huge part of the draw; I wouldn't have included it had I known Norris was  on her way out or even that the menu was so radically abridged. 

The brewpub's new direction has been in the works "about three months," Norris says.  "I understand their point of view," she says of the owners' decision, adding that they understand offering such a limited menu is "not something I feel comfortable doing. I'm going to stay and help them get to where they feel comfortable."

The chef's imminent departure underlines starkly some of the points I made in a critic's notebook essay on the Dallas dining scene I also published the day before the announcement. 

Norris does not yet know what her next gig will be. "I have some plans for things that I want to do," she says, "so I'm pretty excited about that. Not really partnering with anybody; I don't want to jump into another group yet. I'm really excited to start my own thing." 

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